São Gabriel has had a Michelin star since 2000, so is quite well established. In 2013 it changed owners and locally born chef Leonel Pereira took over the kitchen. He learned his trade at the local Hotel Quinta do Lago, Niko in Paris, Cipriani in Venice, the Alexandra Palace in Switzerland and Panorama restaurant at the Sheraton Lisbon. The restaurant is located in an old farmhouse, located next to a Thai restaurant under the same ownership. As with many restaurants in the area, they are open seasonally, from around March to October.
The dining area is divided into three small rooms seating 55 customers. In warm weather the seating is moved entirely outside, with up to 70 people accommodated at any one time. There was a tasting menu at €79 in addition to the à la carte choices. The rooms had tiled floors and unnecessary and ageing pop music playing, albeit at a mercifully low volume; typical were bands such as Supertramp, who have not been at the musical cutting edge for a considerable period of time.
The wine list was more than half Portuguese and had a reasonable selection from elsewhere in the world. Sample wines were Trimbach Riesling 2010 at €31.50 for a label that retails at €23, Meerlust Merlot 2004 at €55 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €20, Redoma Reserva 2011 at €72.50 compared to a retail price of €50, and Chasse-Spleen 2001 at €151.50 for a label that will set you back €52 in a shop. We drank the excellent Vinha Do Contador 2011 at €54.50.
Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen other than a bought-in German sunflower seed loaf. The focaccia was good, in addition to pleasant olive roll, rye bread, onion roll, white and poppy seed (14/20 average). The meal began with a couple of nibbles. A spherical potato crisp reminiscent of an Indian puri contained blue lobster and grilled cucumber cream, topped with dehydrated blue lobster and roe. This was an interesting idea slightly let down by the potato layer not being crisp enough (14/20). Salt cod was served with crispy potato, poached quail egg, onion, truffle oil (optimistically described as white truffle by our waiter) and a chopped parsley garnish. This was pleasant, though the oil, in reality a chemical (2,4-Dithiapentane) with no connection to real truffle, added nothing (13/20).
Scallops were served in "shells" made from apple injected with beetroot, with a sauce of smoked celery, feta cheese, blood orange and grapefruit. The scallop was part cooked, which to me always seems like a mistake: I like scallop sashimi, and I like cooked scallops, but something in between always seems to spoil the core ingredient. Citrus with shellfish is logical, but as for feta cheese with scallops, what possessed the chef to do this eludes me. This was a very good example of a chef desperately trying to be inventive but ending up diminishing the dish by trying too hard (barely 12/20).
The gimmickry continued with the next dish. Mackerel, rather than just being grilled, was smoked and then grilled on one side only. This was just flawed, resulting in a soggy piece of fish. The fish was served with horseradish, kumquat jelly, celeriac and beetroot. The kumquat flavour was muted so much as to be invisible, though the horseradish was a sensible idea, and the other elements were fine. Again this seemed to me like an unnecessarily overcomplicated dish (12/20).
Main courses were on much firmer ground. Red mullet was pan-fried and served on a bed of negroni rice with peas and a kaffir lime leaf sauce. The mullet itself was a lovely piece of fish, cooked simply and accurately, and although the peas did not have great flavour the sauce was refreshing (easily 15/20). Turbot was also precisely timed, served with very good caramelised cauliflower and a Roquefort sauce that had the potential to be a mismatch but was sufficiently restrained not to be (15/20).
For dessert, almond cake came with orange cream and tangerine cream, and had good texture, the fruit providing pleasant acidity (14/20). Lemon and lime meringue came with raspberries and pistachio cream. The raspberries were fine and the meringue texture was pleasant but the citrus flavour was missing in action (13/20).
Service was very good, and was swift and efficient without feeling hurried. Topping up was unobtrusive and the waiters were friendly. The bill came to €118 (£87) per head including pre-dinner drinks. Overall I had the impression that the chef was trying too hard, with more elements than needed in most dishes and a desire to show off modern culinary technique, often at the expense of flavour. The best dishes were the ones least worked on, that allowed the good local ingredients to show through. Overall the score was on the border between 13/20 and 14/20.